A rising tide may lift all boats, but DWP disability release fails to show decreasing disadvantage
Late last month, the DWP put out a glowing headline: 400 more disabled people in work every day. It is not entirely unwelcome news. It does mean that there has been net growth of more than 141,000 disabled people in some form of employment over the past year. It also means that the DWP is at least making an effort to demonstrate concern for disabled people’s employment access.
Sadly, that effort seems—at best—misdirected. When strictly looking at employment and unemployment numbers, the whole economy does appear to be recovering somewhat. A rising tide lifts all boats. Unless you expect disabled people to come at the end of every queue, there should be some improvements for both disabled and non-disabled people.
Consider for a moment: why might the DWP issue a release specifically about the employment outcomes of a group of people known to face employment discrimination and disadvantage? The problem is that providing analysis on disabled people in isolation from non-disabled people indicates little about whether employment disadvantages are actually declining for disabled people.
If you want to understand employment disadvantage in the current economic climate, you need to know what the gaps are between disabled and non-disabled people. The below chart provides the precise figures for the claims the DWP made about disabled people in employment. Alongside, the same figures have been calculated for non-disabled people.
You can see why DWP did not report the full context. They report that about 400 more disabled people have gained work every day this past year. If you use their same method, you find more than 1,300 non-disabled people have also gained employment every day!
If you then control for the different numbers of disabled and non-disabled people by using the change in employment rates, the improvement for both groups over the same year is really almost identical, 1.4 and 1.3 percentage points higher.
The DWP also reported a 10.9% decline in the number of unemployed disabled people over the past year. As shown above, the number of non-disabled unemployed people fell by 23.9% over the same period.
The DWP release did not highlight the declining unemployment rate. However, if you again control for the different numbers of disabled and non-disabled people by using the change in the unemployment rate over the past year, the improvement for both groups over the same year is again almost identical—a decline of 1.7 percentage points for disabled people and 1.6 percentage points for non-disabled people.
Unfortunately, if you care about reducing the economic disadvantage of disabled people, there is little story of improvement here. The best that can be said is that the gaps have been fairly stable on these measures; they have not gotten significantly worse over the past year.
Let us not forget, however, that the employment measures used to arrive at even the rosy conclusions the DWP attempted to make do not capture anything about job quality or wages. These are not insignificant in the face of the UK’s growing low pay recovery. TUC analysis published today illustrates the growing magnitude of the low paid recovery for women especially.
NOTE: All figures have been calculated directly from those reported on Table A08 (Feb 2015). Figures for disabled people were taken from the “Equality Act core disabled” groupings. Figures for non-disabled people were taken from the “Not classified as Equality Act core disabled and/or work-limiting disabled” groupings.